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Hawaiian Sea Floor Survey Turns Up Possible Site of 1956 Volcanic Eruption

May 29, 1991 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) _ Geologists at an undersea mapping company believe they may have pinpointed the site of a 1956 volcanic eruption that made the seas boil in a two-mile deep channel between the Hawaiian islands of Oahu and Kauai.

Seafloor Surveys International was testing a high-resolution mapping system two weeks ago when computer readouts depicted a stark black streak against the sediment-covered surroundings, said Frisbee Campbell, company vice president.

″We found what looked like a very young lava flow,″ Campbell said Tuesday. ″It could have been created yesterday or 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago, but it looks fresh, like you were looking at an area of the Big Island with a lava flow on it.″

The image, made about halfway across the span of some 80 miles between the two islands, suggests a small volcanic cone at one end of the flow with black lava falling away downhill to the south, he said.

The lava flow, 10 miles long and about four miles wide, is within six to seven miles of where a military aircraft navigator placed the surface disturbance on May 23, 1956, when navigation was less precise, he said.

″This could indeed be the 1956 eruption,″ said Tom Wright, scientist in charge at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii.

The 1956 eruption reportedly killed three whales and emitted sulfur odors strong enough to be smelled by people in airplanes passing overhead, from which they saw blue ocean waters discolored yellowish-green and brown.